Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cuvée Pif 2012
The generic appellations of the Loire heartland – by which I mean the Anjou and Touraine appellations – never seem to receive much love. Too easily overlooked in favour of wines from more prestigious corners of the Loire vineyard, such as Savennières or Vouvray, it is easy to forget that these appellations boast some magnificent terroirs to match those which characterise their more famous cousins. For every slope of fractured schist looking down from the slopes of a coulée in Savennières I can show you an equally superb vineyard in Anjou with deep soils of schist, spilite or slate. And for every première côte lieu-dit you can name in Vouvray – I think you would have to be a real Loire geek (or Winedoctor subscriber) to name more than five, by the way – I can point you in an equally interesting outcrop of Turonian limestone on the banks of the Cher.
Vignerons working in these generic appellations can at times get a raw deal, their wines under-valued and consequently under-priced. This is despite the fact I could name quite a few wines and domaines in the Anjou and Touraine appellations which I would patronise before their more renowned peers. Let us not forget that these ‘lowly’ appellations are home to some of the leading lights of the Loire Valley, the likes of Richard Leroy, Jo Pithon (admittedly recently retired), Henry Marionnet and Thierry Puzelat, to name just a few. I have thus decided that this week I shall cast the Winedoctor spotlight in their direction, and so over the next few days I will be publishing a number of tasting reports all of which relate to domaines that work predominantly in the Touraine appellation. For one week Winedoctor will be a Chinon–free zone. And Vouvray is interdit.
Welcome to Touraine week!
One domaine I won’t be publishing a tasting update for is Clos Roche Blanche. This is perhaps the most iconic Touraine domaine of them all, but the sad truth is that after a period of winding-down, during which proprietors Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet relinquished their hold on many of their vineyards, a few years ago they finally embarked on a well-earned retirement. What vineyards they still possessed were sold off, so that the vines once part of Clos Roche Blanche are now in the hands of a number of other vignerons, youngsters such as Noëlla Morantin, Julien Pineau and Laurent Saillard. Catherine and Didier remain in the house on the domaine, and the Clos Roche Blanche spirit lives on, but the wines as they were are no more. The last vintage in which they released any wine under the Clos Roche Blanche label was 2014.
The wines were always difficult to come by in the UK (thanks to some sensible importers the situation was much better in the USA) and so despite wanting to kick off on Winedoctor this week with a bottle from Catherine and Didier I confess I didn’t have a large stock to choose from. My hand ultimately settled on this, the 2012 Touraine Cuvée Pif. One of their best-known cuvées, named for their dog (who I did once have the pleasure of meeting), Cuvée Pif is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Côt, which makes it something of a poster child for the Touraine appellation. From a challenging vintage (especially for reds) in the glass it displays a dark, concentrated and slightly dusty hue. The aromatic profile is an old-school masterclass for Loire purists, kicking off with dark seams of savoury fruits, in particular black plums and damsons, but for my nose the most prominent feature here is a very green and herbaceous lift, the aromas brimming with notes of garden mint and earthy sage. The palate follows up with a cool and savoury start, but it shows an immediate and unexpected textural confidence. Despite this dark and textured style the palate shows plenty of greener herb and celery seed notes, quite dominant, veering into some rather more earthy and vegetal notes at times. This has tangible weight, all underpinned by a very light tannin frame, but also tart acidity. There are some points here that appeal but this is certainly a vintage for old-school traditionalists who like their Loire reds on the greener side. I don’t mind a touch of methoxypyrazine, in fact I rather like it. But regardless of this domaine’s cult status, I cannot deny that I find the green and vegetal notes here detract from the otherwise charming, textural fruit. 90/100
Tomorrow and this week, more from Touraine, looking at several domaines which might not have the cult status of Clos Roche Blanche, but which turn out even better (and thus under-rated) wines. (29/10/18)
Also, read more in:
- My detailed profile of Clos Roche Blanche
- My report on the Loire 2012 vintage
- My guide to Cabernet Franc, Côt and Other Red Loire Varieties